In the early days after openingBurnt Timber Brewing & Tavern in Wolfeboro in 2017, Eddie Michno was a one man show. He did all the food prep and brewing, waited on customers, talked to them about the latest offerings and prepared their food.
“It’s funny to go, ‘remember that?’ then realize we’re going back to that,” Michno said.
The pandemic has dampened business at Burnt Timber, so Michno is trying to get the most out of the fewest number of staff. He has streamlined the restaurant in order to keep his overhead low and ensure that the staff that remain have enough hours to pay their bills.
Recently, one of the kitchen staff left for a seasonal job that Michno knew he would be taking. Rather than hire for the full-time position, Michno cross-trained two waitstaff to work in the kitchen. Being able to run the restaurant with fewer employees means that the Burnt Timber is able to stay open on Wednesdays and Thursdays, days when Michno had been considering shutting the doors.
“We’re able to pay staff a higher hourly wage just for those two days that have been historically slow,” Michno said. “They’re getting paid a lot more, and we’re able to stay open five days a week.”
Responding to the pandemic has required some creative thinking. During the stay at home order, Burnt Timber remained open for takeout. It seemed like the right decision at the time, even as staff were opting to leave because they could make more on unemployment than they could working in the restaurant.
“We lost money as a business doing it,” Michno said. “We should have just shut down in retrospect.”
The lifting of the stay at home order and the summer weather gave Burnt Timber a boost, but during the fall business slowed. Michno believed he was on to something with takeout, so decided to give it another try.
“I have kids, eventually you just get tired of pizza,” he said.
He chose to focus on two take and bake meals that were on brand with Burnt Timber’s mission of providing slow-cooked, fermented and artisan products.
“It’s a lot of time-honored processes,” Michno said of the food and drink at the restaurant. “There are no shortcuts, but it shows in the final product.”
The family taco kit, which retails for $50 and feeds four, comes with brisket or pulled pork, kimchi and pickles fermented in house, and sides. Soon, Michno plans to add a homemade bratwurst meal kit as well. Although existing customers have enjoyed the take and bake kits, it’s been hard to get new customers to think of a brewpub for takeout, Michno said.
Because of that, Michno is still in survival mode.
“We’re trying to do things to give employees hours to pay their bills, and get people excited,” he said.
But with a slew of transplants from Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire settling in the Lakes Region permanently, Michno believes that his customer base will expand long-term. He’s been heartened to see new restaurants opening in Wolfeboro, despite the pandemic.
“A rising tide floats all ships,” Michno said. “Wolfeboro is slowly going to become a foodie destination, which is really cool to see.”
He’s hopeful that a vaccine will make more people comfortable coming in for a beer and a meal by this summer. Despite the challenges this year, the pandemic might just help Burnt Timber and other lakes region establishments, Michno believes.
“You’re breaking even on stuff you’re doing, so employees can get through. Right now we’re just trying to stay afloat until the bubble breaks and more people are comfortable going out.”
This story is part of the 50 Businesses, 50 Solutions series, shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative, that aims to highlight how business leaders across the state, from mom and pop shops, to large corporations have adapted to meet the challenges and disruptions caused by the novel coronavirus in the hopes others may be able to replicate these ideas and innovations. Tell us your story here. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.